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There is a rope extending from Sully's table at the entrance to the ring used for sparring sessions. To the left of the ring are wooden benches for spectators, seldom used unless Ali or some other famous fighter is in town. In a near corner is Chris Dundee's desk, with a cracked glass top and a telephone with a lock on the dial. Chris is well aware of the propensity of the fight crowd for making long-distance telephone calls. Whenever someone calls up asking for money, Dundee feigns deafness.
Not long ago, one such call was made collect, and Dundee went into his act with the operator. She persisted while he stayed calm; he couldn't hear her. She spoke back to the caller, and once again Dundee professed not to be able to hear. "I guess we've got a bad connection, honey," he said. The voice on the other end grew frantic: "I can hear him, operator. Tell him I need five hundred bucks today to bail out of a jam."
"I can't hear a thing, operator," Dundee said.
The operator grew exasperated. "Well, I can hear him perfectly well, Mr. Dundee. He says he needs five hundred dollars."
"If you can hear him, honey," Dundee said, "you loan him the five hundred."
By contrast, Chris' brother, Angelo Dundee, may be the softest touch in all of boxing. Angelo still has one old fighter borrowing money who has not fought in five years, nor will he ever fight again. Once every month he labors up the dark flight of stairs at the Fifth Street Gym, dons his fighting togs and reels around the floor in a pathetic pantomime of a boxer training for a bout. At the end of this sad exhibition, he touches Angelo for the monthly loan. Angelo is now down more than $10,000 to this man. So much for the typical picture of the bloodthirsty trainer who is still sucking money from a finished fighter.
This is the Fifth Street Gym and its people. This is where, years ago, my association with Ali began.
March 1962—Angelo called to say he was sending over a new kid for a cold shot. He also said that this was the new kid they were high on and to treat him extra nice. As I was hanging up, a young giant walked into the office and began a nonstop conversation that has lasted 14 years.
My initial impression of Cassius Clay was that he was very nervous and was covering up his anxiety with whistling-in-the-graveyard type of talk. He was certainly a superb specimen, and he was certainly handsome, and he really could talk. Now if he could only fight.
On this quiet day in my office in the central Miami black ghetto, Clay was mainly intent on talking me out of the shot and into giving him oral medication. (Through 14 years he has taken hundreds of needles from me, but he has changed little in his dislike of them.) We did a slow bullfight ver�nica, with me as the matador and Clay as the bull. He twisted and turned until finally I lunged at him and injected him.